Passive vs. Active Tracking: How to Know Which Is Right for You

If you’re thinking of investing in a GPS tracking device, you’re probably going to run into a fundamental problem: do you need an active or a passive tracking device?

That’s right—not all GPS devices function in the same way or even in the same capacity! Knowing whether you need an active or a passive device for your purposes means first understanding the difference between the two—how they function, what features they offer, how they track and report data, etc.

Active vs. passive

All GPS devices do the same thing: they locate position relative to the world around them. But this is where the similarities end. From this core concept you can either have passive reporting or active tracking:

  • Passive tracking is when a GPS unit gathers data that needs to be downloaded from the tracker. These devices do not report in real time. Instead, they silently collect data that can be viewed as a whole later on. Once data is downloaded, you’ll be able to see exactly where the tracker has been.
  • Active tracking is what we tend to think of when we think of GPS tracking devices from a moviegoer’s perspective. Active trackers continuously emit a signal that can be tracked up to the minute, wherever it may be. You don’t have to wait to download data—you can pop up a map and see for yourself where it is at any given time (barring interference).

Both types of tracker have their pros and cons, and both serve unique purposes when deployed. Now that you understand how they function, picking the right one for your needs becomes a little easier.

When to use them

Based on the nature of each tracker, there are a few scenarios where one may be superior to the other, and vice versa. Some examples include:

  • For keeping tabs on an elderly person or someone suffering from Alzheimer’s, there’s no substitute for active tracking. You’ll be able to tell where they are at all times, eliminating that panic that comes when you can’t immediately find them.
  • For teen drivers, passive tracking is a great way to keep tabs on them. You might not need to know where they are at any given second, but you might like to know if they went somewhere they weren’t supposed to!
  • If you own a package delivery service, active tracking is a smart investment. Being able to see if something is out for delivery or if something has been stolen requires real-time capabilities.
  • Police or private investigators will often use passive trackers to help them keep tabs on the movements of a person of interest, such as a parolee or someone involved in an ongoing investigation.

Take some time to understand the nature of your GPS tracking needs before jumping into a decision between active or passive trackers. Weigh the pros and cons of both and try to understand how they fit your need for location-based data. Taking the time to ask the right questions means buying the right tracking product.